Wedding Planner Chat with Allison Jackson, Thursday, January 24 at 11 AM

Planning a wedding? Want free expert advice? Thursday, January 24, we're hosting a chat with local wedding planner Allison Jackson. Submit your questions now, and you may be one of the first to get an answer when we kick things off.

Allison Jackson came to Washington 15 years ago to intern at the White House but—after that and a several-year stint on the Hill—decided to put her organizational expertise (have you ever managed a senator’s schedule?) to work in a different field: event planning. She started Pineapple Productions in 2000 and does about 20 weddings a year. Allison specializes in event planning at private estates and historic properties, but she hasn’t moved totally away from the Hill—her company often does soirees for members of Congress.

Thank you all so much for your questions.  I had a lot of fun participating in this on line chat.  Best wishes to everyone planning a wedding — it's such a special and memorable time.  And as someone who has been married for over twelve years, I can tell you your wedding day will be just the start of many more wonderful memories to come! 

Allison Jackson, Pineapple Productions


That's all the time Allison has for us today. We have one final wedding chat taking place next Thursday, January 31. Submit any questions you have here. For the full archives of wedding chats, click here.

Allison, Thanks for taking questions!! Do you know of a place that makes reasonably priced wedding invitations or most importantly a place that prints wedding invitations on recycled paper?
Just Paper and Tea in Georgetown is a wonderful family owned store that offers invitations in a range of prices.  And I’m so glad to hear you ask about recycled paper.  Going green isn’t a wedding trend.  Going green is becoming part of our social consciousness, and more and more vendors in the wedding industry are changing the way they do business in response to that.  For example, Just Paper and Tea carries recycled paper, as well as cotton rag and soy inks for their green customers.  They also have seed papers which can be planted. 
Casey, DC
Can you recommend a lighting company that can create an intimate yet elegant atmosphere without going over board with lighting effects, shades of color, or pricing? Thanks!!!!!
Lighting is one of the most important elements for any special event.  You are so smart to ask about this.  I would rather have a client cut back on spending on flowers and invest in lighting to achieve the best look.  For special event lighting, I most often work with Frost Lighting.  Fred Elting and his team are so friendly and so approachable.  They understand that many Washington wedding clients are interested in subtle, romantic ambient light rather than something over the top and thematic.   I also recommend Light-O-Lutions and John Farr to clients.  They have all done wonderful work for my clients and have been willing to work within a budget.

It’s also worth considering asking your floral designer about lighting elements.  Many floral designers like to incorporate relatively reasonably priced lighting components in their proposals. For example, Jack Lucky Floral Design likes to suggest copper torches and hanging votives in trees.  The Ociana Group loves to recommend various lanterns and light fixtures – floor lanterns, hanging lanterns from shepherd’s hooks and even vintage chandeliers to hang from tent ceilings.

Silver Spring, MD
I want to have a wedding in the DC area for under 10,000–is this possible? I want a maximum of 80 people.
Weddings in the DC area are expensive.  I hear all the time that the average wedding in Washington costs around $50,000.  However, I think anything is possible!  You may need to do a lot of work yourself, and you may need to spend a lot more time researching options than someone not working on a budget.  As long as you are willing to work hard and be flexible, I think it is possible.

You will definitely help yourself out by keeping the guest count around 50-80 people.  You may want to target some of your favorite casual restaurants as a wedding reception location.  Having a wedding in a restaurant can allow for a fun, unique and intimate celebration.  Just be sure to factor in tip and tax into your food and beverage budget!

Hire a DJ versus a band for music, and forget about flowers for decorating tables.  Restaurants usually provide their own décor and lighting.  If you are willing to use the existing restaurant décor, you could save a lot of money.

You also may want to hire a “photographer in training” or even a photography student to take pictures at your wedding.  Many photographers are looking to get into the wedding industry and are desperate for experience of any kind.  Good sources for photographers in training might be art schools as well as some of the more established photo studios.  Understand that a photography student will not be able to offer you the same level of service as a principal photographer, but if you can find someone who is enthusiastic and hard working, this could be a worthwhile way to reduce photography costs considerably.

My advice is do whatever you can do to stick to your budget – even if it means making some sacrifices and thinking outside the box.  No one should go into debt planning a wedding.

what would you suggest for a bridal bouquet if the brides colors were black and silver?? what would her options be for fresh flowers?

I’m a little bit of a traditionalist and love white bouquets for brides.   Flowers come in such a spectrum of whites and creams, and the options will really depend on what time of year you are getting married.  I absolutely love whites and creams with silver – especially antique silver.  You could have your florist wrap your bouquet with white or cream satin ribbon and secure it with vintage silver buttons or accent it with an old piece of silver jewelry from your family.  That could even qualify as your “something old” for the wedding day!

Also, keep in mind that there are some calla lilies and gerbera daisies with black centers.  Carrying a clutch of those callas with the dark centers would be very dramatic, sophisticated and kind of art deco in feel.

Arlington, VA
I am looking for a DC/VA/MD videographer that does 8mm wedding films. The only videographer I've seen in this area that does this includes it as part of a giant package —but I don't want any of the other stuff in the package (I don't like the overprocessed "movie" videos that are being done these day). Do you have a recommendation for anyone in the area or is New York the only option?
You don’t have to go to New York for this!  I know Martin Andrews and Jenny Lehman shoot in film.  Also I highly recommend Thomas Bowen.  I work with him probably most often. Not only can Tom shoot in film, but he can also shoot in video in ways that are much more artistic than the music video style.  I have seen some of his video footage look incredibly film like.  I’m sure that in your investigation of sources for 8mm wedding films, you have learned that shooting entirely in film can be very expensive. It may be worth your while to consider a combination of film and video shot in a documentary style.  Martin, Jenny and Tom are all incredibly talented and well-respected artists.  I’m sure they could help you out and give you the look you want.
bethesda, maryland
my husband has a bird phobia but I always envisioned releasing doves at our wedding… or BUTTERFLIES… can you tell me where I could find this resource… being that I'm a california girl- I was thinking of monarch butterflies. is this customary… and is it environmentally ok?
Check out this link Most on line sources will ship to you only butterflies that are indigenous to your wedding location.  Know that for butterflies to take flight, the weather needs to be at least in the mid to high sixties.  The warmer the weather, the better for the butterflies.  Butterflies also must be released during the daylight so they can find a place to roost before evening.  If you are having your wedding in an outdoor location with lots of host plants and flowers, the butterflies might very likely remain in that location for the rest of the season. 
san francisco
are there organic catering companies that specialize for weddings or events? how do I find out WHO … and can they ensure all ingredients are green.
Susan Gage Caterers is a wonderful high end catering company devoted to giving their clients exactly what they want, including completely organic and locally grown food if that is of interest.  I also understand RSVP Catering has developed an organic catering division within their company.
Washington, DC
Hi. I am in the first week of planning my wedding, and am following advice that the first step is to determine rough size and book the venue. I am not sure how to determine how much I can budget toward the venue, being sure to leave myself funds for everything else! Is there a ratio that you recommend? Maybe both for a space that includes catering per head and one that is for space only? Thanks!

I am so happy to hear that you are thinking about your venue and how it relates to your budget.  Because venues in Washington vary so dramatically in price, I don’t think a ratio of spending is the best way to think about budget.  I would first identify what your budget is, and then figure out which venue options are available on your wedding date. 

The next and most important step is to be aware of any other fixed costs associated with having an event at your venue of choice.  For example, some venues come with exclusive or required vendor lists.  You need to be aware of the pricing of these exclusive or required vendors before moving forward with your venue.  Set pricing of exclusive or required vendors could take you out of your budget.

Also, some venues require tenting.  You need to understand the cost of any tent needs, and this very often relates to equipment beyond the actual tent structure.  Tents typically require lighting, and sometimes they require flooring.  Sometimes a generator is necessary.   Be sure you are aware of any tenting requirements and receive estimates before committing to a venue.

Finally, try to assess any logistical challenges associated with your venue of choice that could lead to additional spending.  For example, is valet parking necessary?  Do you need to consider shuttle transportation for guests?  Will vendors need extra set up time because loading into the space is difficult?

Before booking a venue, it is important to receive estimates for any fixed costs associated with the venue and ensure that your budget can absorb these costs and still handle other typical wedding expenditures.

Washington DC
I've heard that I should give small gifts to each of my guests. How much should I plan on spending on these gifts, and do you have any ideas for something unique?

Many brides and grooms do like the idea of sharing a small gift or favor with their wedding guests.  However, I cannot recommend spending very much money on these gifts.  While on the job, I observe so many of these gifts being left behind at the reception site. It sometimes seems like a little bit of a waste.

It is though extremely important to let your guests know how much it means to you that they were part of your celebration.  For one client, we hung beautiful calligraphed cards on the rearview mirrors of guest vehicles.  When guests retrieved their cars at the end of the reception, they were sent off with a very sweet and thoughtful personalized message from the bride and groom.  It wasn't expensive, but it was a very meaningful way for the bride and groom to express their appreciation to their guests.  And there wasn't a way this keepsake was going to get left behind at the reception site!

Also, edible gifts are always appreciated by guests.  One current client is considering sending her guests off with packages filled with sliders, fries and mini milkshakes — a fun late night snack for the shuttle bus ride home.

Design Cuisine is a fabulous caterer that often recommends their amazing chocolate truffle lollipops.  I like these very much because they are easy to pass out to guests at the end of the evening.  You can make them even more special by affixing a personal thank you message to the lollipop stick.




Washington DC
Many of my friends have small children. I love them all but do not necessarily want them at my wedding reception. How do I politely request that people leave their children at home?

I can't tell you how often I am asked this question.  This is a concern for many brides and grooms who would prefer not to have children at their wedding receptions.

The most polite way to send the message that you are planning an adult only reception is by addressing your invitations in a way that signals only the parents are invited.  Traditionally the outer envelope of the invitation would be addressed to the parents of the household.  The inner envelope is the envelope that specifies which members of the household are invited.  If you aren't inviting children, then the inner envelope would only be addressed to the parents.  If you aren't using inner envelopes, just address the outer envelope to the parents.

Even if you are specific in the addressing of your invitations, you might very well have guests contact you and ask if they can bring their children.  In that case, you should just politely say that you are planning an adult only reception. You should also be sensitive to guests who are parents by offering to find qualified professional babysitters in the DC area.   I like to recommend White House Nannies to clients who need professional babysitters for out of town guests.



Washington, DC
where do I find bridesmaid dresses that are all the same fabric but have different styles?

Fortunately there are wonderful bridal boutiques in the DC area that can help you out.  One of my favorites is Hitched in Georgetown.  Hitched carries a line called Simple Silhouettes that features many bridesmaids dress designs in the same fabric.  Simple Silhouettes also allows you to customize the looks of the dresses with interesting details. 

Also, Promise for the Savvy Bride in Bethesda offers many wonderful and well priced lines for bridesmaids.  I really like Coren Moore for their choice of colors, fabrics and flattering styles.

Washington, DC
Is it more expensive to have square or rectangular tables than round tables?

This is a really great question!  The answer in my opinion is probably.  Square and rectangular tables in general take up more space, which means planning for a larger reception area than if you used all round tables.  For a tented wedding reception, this could mean a larger tent and more tent equipment which translates into more spending.

Also, round tables tend to be able to fit more guests at each table.  You can reduce your number of tables by seating your guests at all round tables.  Using square and rectangular tables will probably mean needing more tables, which means more table linens, more floral arrangements and more money spent.

Square tables also have more space in the center than round tables.  Some floral designers will tell you a larger and more substantial arrangement is needed for a square table.  And while rectangular tables can be narrower, if you are interested in design, you might find yourself wanting to create "tablescapes" down the center of these tables.  The biggest misconception by my clients is that creating "tablescapes" is less expensive than high floral arrangements because less flowers are used.  That might be the case; however, "tablescapes" usually involve more containers, more specialty items and more labor to create.  All of that can translate into higher costs for floral design for rectangular tables.

That said, I think it is absolutely wonderful to consider a mix of round, square and rectangular tables.  If you have the space available at your reception site, try to budget for this.  The mix of tables is such an interesting visual.  It creates a more unique and custom look without appearing over the top.



Manassas, VA
On one of the last Washingtonian chats, I read another wedding planner's comment that you should plan for a few guests to show up who didn't RSVP that they were coming. Does this really happen a lot?

Yes, this does happen from time to time.  Generally you will have some people fail to make it to the wedding for whatever reason, and you might very well have some show that you haven't counted on.  But don't despair!  There is an easy solution if this happens.  Wedding coordinators and caterers work together behind the scenes to address any problems like this.  If it's just a matter of a few guest changes, seating arrangements can be adjusted quickly and without guests being aware of the situation.

I've had a few clients know in advance that they might have many extra guests show without responding.  In those cases we made sure to plan for a few extra tables for "overflow" guests.  I wouldn't recommend this to every client, but if you feel you might fall into the category of needing some overflow space, be sure your floor plan will be able to accomodate a few extra tables.


Arlington, Va
We are struggling to choose a photographer. Do you have any suggestions for picking one out of several good people? We've met them, their pictures are great, and prices are in our range, but we just can't narrow it down further. Is it just sort of a gut feeling? Or do you have any other ideas? Thanks!

It sounds like you have the fortunate dilemma of too many good options! I am not surprised that you have found several wonderful photographers in Washington.  DC seems to be an area where many experienced and talented photographers work and settle.

One thing you may want to explore is how the photographers you are considering handle the proofing process and album design.  I notice a tremendous variation in the way photographers present proofs and ultimately design their albums.  Be sure you understand the proofing process and the album style options and design process before making a final decision.

Also, it really is important that you establish some personal connection with your photographer.  Make sure you like your photographer and that he or she makes you feel comfortable.  If you aren't able to feel comfortable or be yourself in front of your photographer, that really can come across in your pictures. 



Bethesda, MD
I would like to have a close friend perform our ceremony. What are my options for making this happen?
I can't imagine anything more special than having a close friend perform your marriage ceremony.  I have helped many clients in the past make this possible.  It's important to know that each state handles this a bit differently.  Figure out first where you will have your wedding ceremony and then contact the Marriage Bureau for more information.  If your friend is in the ministry or is a judge, it's mostly just a matter of filling out some forms to make sure he or she is legally able to marry you in the state where your ceremony is taking place.  If your friend isn't in the ministry or a judge, there will be a few extra hoops to jump through.  Be sure you start looking into this right away so you have plenty of time to work out the administrative details.